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Senate Stays In Session to Block Recess Appointments

By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Saturday, November 17, 2007

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), in a showdown with the White House over executive branch nominations, refused yesterday to formally adjourn the chamber for a planned two-week Thanksgiving break in order to thwart President Bush's ability to make recess appointments.

Rather than allowing the Senate to take a full break, Reid employed a rarely used parliamentary tactic by scheduling "pro forma" sessions twice a week until early December, when Congress returns for three weeks of work. Under that plan, a few senators, perhaps just one Democrat and one Republican, will briefly open the chamber for debate during the next two weeks.

The move blocks Bush's ability to make recess appointments, which would allow his choices to serve out the remainder of Bush's term.

Reid accused Bush of slow-walking Democratic nominees for bipartisan oversight agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission. Reid said he had made good on a summertime promise to move several key Bush nominees, including new Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, but Bush has not officially nominated some Democratic selections for the bipartisan commissions.

"I am committed to making that progress if the President will meet me half way," Reid said in a statement inserted in the Congressional Record. "But that progress can't be made if the President seeks controversial recess appointments and fails to make Democratic appointments to important commissions."

An administration official who insisted on anonymity to discuss pending decisions said Democratic nominees for the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Election Commission and the National Labor Relations Board are close to being sent to the Senate.

The White House accused Democrats of holding up more than 200 executive and judicial branch nominations, including some for the circuit courts and the Federal Reserve Board. "If they are going to come in every three days, they might as well hold hearings on these nominees and make progress on filling these important positions," spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said.

Agencies such as the FCC are bipartisan. By tradition, congressional Republicans and Democrats recommend names to the White House for nomination to the Senate. The president usually selects commission chairmen.

Under law, a president can use a recess appointment if the Senate is adjourned more than three days without reconvening on the fourth day. The interim appointments last through the current and next sessions of Congress.

Congressional rules allow for the Senate to be adjourned for three full days without being considered in recess. Bush cannot use the interim appointments as long as the chamber is opened every fourth day. Reid set a schedule of pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday next week, and then on Nov. 27 and Nov. 29.

The Senate returns Dec. 3 for full legislative sessions and is expected to adjourn a few days before Christmas until mid-January. But Reid is threatening to hold pro forma sessions throughout the holiday season, if necessary, to block recess appointments.

Bush has drawn the ire of Democrats with past recess appointments, including an early January 2004 selection of Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr. to a federal appellate court seat. Pickering had been filibustered by Democrats. His term expired at the end of 2004.

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